Agro-tourism is increasingly becoming a popular tourism trend in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in which rural rest houses and inns are becoming a trendy choice for those seeking a short holiday during weekends or during summer vacations away from the hustle-bustle and pollution of cities.
Rural guest houses that are scattered in agricultural fields in Taif, Qassim, Al-Ahsa, Jazan, or eco-lodges stationed in parks and forests and reserves in Asir, Madinah, Najran, and other locations, are in demand where tourists can spend an unforgettable holiday in an atmosphere distinguished with quietude and a clean rural environment.
Furthermore, the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA) is focusing on developing eco-tourism in KSA; it prepared a number of investment portfolios, which includes primary feasibility studies for executing a number of projects in this respect. The prospected projects represent three types of environmental rest houses (desert, coastal, and mountain types). SCTA has also published the technical specifications for establishing environment-friendly rest houses, as well as other guides for establishing rural rest houses. These directories are available for investors who wish to invest in this area through SCTA’s Provincial Tourism Organizations or through the headquarters of the Secretariat-General.
In this respect, Eng. Osama Al Khalawi, SCTA’s assistant vice president for developing tourism sites stated that the board has approved developing this type of tourism due to the positive social and economic impacts resulting from it. It will revitalize the local economy through diversification of tourism products, promoting tourism, and creating new job opportunities especially at traditional farms in rural areas. In addition, it will highlight the tangible and intangible cultural heritage, such as traditional crafts based on local environments, participation in cooking traditional foods, as well as other activities that commensurate with the natural environment. He pointed out that rural tourism at the global level is the fastest-growing sector in the tourism industry, where the growth is about 10 to 15 percent of the total tourism expenditure worldwide. Moreover, the International Fund for Preserving Wildlife estimates that around 20 percent of the income of tourism in the developed countries is generally derived from environmental tourism.
He noted that many of the avenues of support are provided by related authorities for investors in rural tourism, which includes providing the investor with a list of tourist sites eligible for eco-lodge projects and guest houses in rural areas. SCTA is coordinating with its partners to facilitate the procedures for granting licenses for the construction of such projects for investors, providing technical support during the preparation of the investor architectural designs and reviewing the economic feasibility studies prepared by the investor. In addition, such projects will be included in the tourist maps and programs of the visit and in its marketing campaigns. SCTA will work in coordination with its partners in the Ministry of Agriculture to formulate principles and investment tools, as wel as regulatory and marketing support for the development of agro-tourism in the Kingdom along with support of the National Commission for Wildlife Conservation and Development to lay out a national plan for developing eco-tourism.
Al Khalawi stressed that the development in the tourism zones of “Al Hada and Al Shefa” in Al Taif municipality will be key factors for developing rural rest houses especially in the existing farms. The project is expected to achieve additional economic benefits for farm owners as long as these farms that are developed as tourism facilitates, provide that the natural resources are preserved.
AL WARD CITY REST HOUSES:
While there is a significant concern for this kind of tourism throughout the Kingdom, Taif city is considered as a role model for rural tourism development, based on its environmental diversity, as well as extensive agricultural cover.
Since ancient times, the inhabitants of Taif made use of the area’s topography, which is dominated by mountains. Farms were established along mountain cliffs, houses were built from the area’s natural materials, which simply integrated with the location and limited visual deformities. In addition, Taif has a rich heritage, farmers and craftsmen supply local markets with their products such as popular traditional foods (cheese, Egt, honey, butter), and handicrafts. Markets and various celebrations in the region still witness the participation of villagers, folk chanting, and colorful costumes reflecting the nature of the region. During the last five years, SCTA focused on the rural areas of Al Ward as these areas are rich with attractive tourism potentials.
Mr. Fahad Bin Abdul Aziz Bin Mo’mar, Governor of Al Taif, explained that the development of local communities is one of the main goals of SCTA especially in Taif, which has more than 2,000 agricultural villages, and its rural areas receive thousands of tourists each year. On his part, Eng. Mohammed Al Mokhrij, the Secretary General of Taif municipality, has pointed out that the projects of Al Hada and Al Shafa as tourism destinations, will greatly support tourism and investment in the area through utilizing the Al Hada and Al Shafa tourism zone both environmentally and geographically.